Great Balls of Fire

Although not as Spectacular as Shoemaker-Levy 9, it seems that Jupiter is impacted by objects quite a bit more frequently than previously thought.

Of course we have known for a long time that the Solar System is crowded with a lot of debris from its formation about 5 billion years ago.  But it is only recently that we found out how many of these small objects impact our largest planet.

Thankfully, with all the budget cuts in science world-wide, amateur astronomers have stepped in to fill some of the void.  Using video cameras and other imaging devices, amateur astronomers observing Jupiter have captured three of collisions in the last 3 years.  Using data from these observations, Ricardo Hueso (University of the Basque Country, Spain) reported this week:  “Our analysis shows that Jupiter could be impacted by objects around 10 meters across between 12 and 60 times per year,” Hueso says. “That is around 100 times more often than the Earth.”

The study also includes detailed simulations of objects entering Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrating at temperatures above 10,000 °C and observations from telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope or the Very Large Telescope of the impact area taken only tens of hours after the impact. Despite observing the planet soon after the impact, Hubble and the VLT saw no signature of the disintegrated objects, showing that such impacts are very brief events.

Because the glow of these impacts is so short-lived, and they happen at unpredictable times, major observatories like Hubble and the VLT cannot reliably observe them due to mission scheduling.  Amateur astronomers, who can dedicate night after night to observing a planet, have a far better chance of spotting these impacts, even if their equipment is far more rudimentary.

The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

Yet another way that citizen scientists are expanding the frontiers of scientific knowledge.  And as soon as I can remotely control and automate my observatory, I intend to help (of course I want to hunt for planets, but that’s beside the point).

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

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